A university instructor's take on how to foster entrepreneurship in the classroom

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The author with one of her classes at Lebanese International University.

They say that entrepreneurship can’t be taught, however, my experience as a business university instructor has taught me that it can be inspired. When I ask my students what they aspire to achieve after graduation, most, if not all, answer that a stable job from 8 to 5 is what they see for themselves; very few students talk about actually starting a company. However, when I ask them about ideas for businesses they dream about starting the entire class raise their hands.

How can we as, instructors and educators, inspire our students to become entrepreneurs rather than just dreaming about it? Here are some preliminary tips to get you thinking.

Start talking about entrepreneurship even if it’s not part of the curriculum: Starting a small discussion, or giving examples about entrepreneurship early in the semester, allows you to test the waters and see how your class reacts. It also paves the way for future discussions and gives your students the space they need to discuss ideas or questions that might arise.

Transform your content: The first thing I would do when preparing for a class was to see how I could localize the course material, finding examples of Arab entrepreneurs and companies that showcase the success of Arabs around the world. 

Get them involved: I always give my students updates about local entrepreneurship events or conferences, competitions, websites, and books that might be useful to them. Going with your students to these events is also a great way to interact and learn with them. 

Students need to be inspired: It’s not enough to talk about what others have achieved; students are much more influenced when they actually see an entrepreneur standing in front of them talking about the difficulties they've faced and how they made it through. After a guest would leave the class, my students would immediately say “that could be me.”

Starting a company is not for everyone: Not everyone in your classroom is going to want to become an entrepreneur as soon as they graduate, some students just want to work in a company and grow in the corporate world, and others might be part of a family business they will manage one day. Work experience is very important for our students, but this doesn't mean that we shouldn't instill in them entrepreneurial values that they can apply wherever they go.  

Stay connected: As soon as the semester is over a lot of students will forget most of what you taught them. But if you inspire your students with guests, events, stories, and examples of what they could become, it's more likely that they're remember. Follow up with students who approach you for help, connect them with people from your network who might be useful, and guide them in the best way you can because sometimes that little push is all they need.

Don’t do it alone: Collaborate with your peers and your university, start an entrepreneurship club, get permission to share entrepreneurial events with the entire university, not only your class, and you will be amazed as to how things can grow. 

Inspiring the future generation to be the best that they can be is the dream of every educator and it is our responsibility to guide our students and show them that the possibilities of what they can achieve are endless.

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